LEESBURG, Va. — Franklin, the one-and-a-half-year-old Bronze turkey who currently has the Morven Park staff all to himself, will be getting some high-profile roomies early next year. That’s when the gobblers President Barack Obama is scheduled to pardon Wednesday afternoon in the Rose Garden will make their way west to their new home, Turkey Hill Farm.
The reprieve for the twin birds coming from Badger, Minn., will mark a quarter-century of forgiveness handed down by consecutively sitting presidents.
Previously pardoned presidential birds have been retired to local sites including Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., and, most recently, Mount Vernon estate. Of course, being pardoned doesn’t prevent the grim reaper from eventually coming a-calling.
Morven Park spokeswoman Teresa Davenport and the rest of the staff that tends to the sprawling Leesburg estate once owned by the late Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis are hoping this year’s turkeys will thrive in their new facility.
Davenport said the 2013 turkeys will still head to Mount Vernon through the holidays, but they are expected to arrive at Turkey Hill in early January.
The pair will then be introduced to Franklin, the lone observer of an ongoing revitalization effort.
According to Davenport, Morven Park had been home to as many as 20,000 heritage breed turkeys, as well as cattle and sheep. “He was a huge producer. One of the biggest in the country at one time,” she said of Davis’ legendary livestock holdings.
Assuming everything goes swimmingly — “They’ve just got to get along. It’ll be a good example for Congress,” Davenport quipped — the birds will all move into the newly erected shed designed to accommodate the growing rafter. Davenport said the birds will likely be displayed on the front lawn sometime next February, with a grand opening for Turkey Hill Farm set to follow in late summer or early fall.
In the meantime, volunteers are working hard to restore an historic tenant house (“There were a bunch of vultures living in there,” she noted) that overlooks the turkey stomping grounds.
And a small group of entrepreneurs are working the land as part of an “incubator farming” arrangement that allows them discounted acreage in exchange for contributing to Morven Park’s educational outreach. Those giving Southern Planter Farm a go include Trent Tebbe and Bruce Forbes, who have teamed up to try to grow organic rye, wheat and oats with which to supply local distilleries, breweries and bakeries, and aspiring garlic producers Maureen Kane and José Nolasco. The name of the farm is an ode to Davis' former role as publisher of Southern Planter magazine.